Library Lea(r)ning

Patrick Leigh Fermor was once described as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene,”  he kept good company with Deborah Mitford, AKA the Duchess of Devonshire.  Their correspondence written ‘in tearing haste‘ over 50 years makes a compelling read as you are swept into their charmed world.  My (almost favourite exchange) is when Deborah asks Paddy if he could rustle up some suitably low brow titles for ‘fake books’  in the seriously grand Chatsworth library…


I confess, I am not sure which one of 6 libraries she intended these for, but rumour has it, this is the one.

Debo writes: Now for something really important. We’ve had to put a new door with false book-backs in the library at Chatsworth and we’ve got to think of 28 titles….

Paddy throws himself at the task with self deprecating gusto:


clearly she asked the right man because the list flows on…


He concludes  They’re most of them pretty rotten, but one or two might do.

(A bit like my photos, apologies)

Pondering this post I have decided my lowly addition might be:

Decor8   –  Bee  Logge

A Decorative Carry On –  by A. Hobbyist

Affairs in Tinterland  – A. Stray

However these are for Chatsworth, the grandest of country houses, where only superlatives  apply –

chatsworthThe setting, the facade, its  extraordinary Baroque interiors, its unrivalled family collection, the libraries containing 27,000 books – yes, the largest in private hands.  Amidst all this pomp and splendour resides Mustafa Swig, Ivor Belch and of course – Abel and Willing.  Chatsworth  nows rests lighter in my mind, suddenly it is not quote so imposing, behind concealed doors – it makes me smile.

Antique-Books-ChatsworthAntique books at Chatsworth via

Surely this is part of the purpose of libraries: maintaining links between past and present, enabling  us to mentally journey, to experience another voice in our mind’s ear … human contact.

Bess of Hardwick  began, what is now the Chatsworth library, 6 books are listed in 1601.  What is surprising, is how long it took for the idea of collecting  books into a library and creating the appropriate architectural space took.  100 years during which the ‘classical education’ emerged with the Grand Tour,  the Palladian mansion and  a self confident belief in democracy and learning: a gentleman had to be educated, in the rediscovered classics to natural history.

holkham palladian

Holkham: Palladian mansion extraordinaire

‘Book Closets’ emerged, first in an intimate corner of a gentleman’s private rooms, gradually entering into the public sphere: Sir Robert Walpole’s library at Houghton is one of the first examples of book shelves being incorporated into the architecture of the room, recessed shelves designed to fit the architectural elements of the room lined in leather and gold volumes.  A room to visit, a room to show off, a room to contemplate.

houghton library

Holkham in 1741 provides the next architectural break through, here books go beyond being fitted into a scheme and their shelving inspires the architecture, the rhythm of the groined vault (ceiling) are further accentuated by the pedimented  sections beneath …

Holkham Hall Library

It was Robert Adam who introduced the library table : Osterley, Nostell Priory, Harewood all feature a  substantial Chippendale ‘desk’.  His supremely comfortable, well appointed rooms ushered in the concept of the library as a sitting room, a relaxed family room even.

Chippendale Library desk Nostell Priory via farm 8 flickr

The turn of the 18th century sees the culmination of the library decoration, often still emulated and alluded too today.  Petworth’s library around 1780 is positively cosy:

Library, Petworth House, West Sussex, England 1982

one way and tother

Petworth library

I am rather partial to the busts, a popular library feature visually linking the room to philosophers:  those ancient and modern ‘lovers of knowledge’.

Humphrey Repton in  1816 wrote Modern custom is to use the library as the general living-room, and that sort of state room (drawing room) …is now generally… a melancholy apartment. His illustration showed the newly fashionable french windows leading out to the newly invented conservatory, full of people  genially engaged in various activities.

Sitting Library Woburn Abbey

Woburn Abbey’s sitting room designed by Henry Holland in the 1790’s and described by Repton above.

And so we return to the Chatsworth library redecorated 1815-1830, described in The English Country House, as containing an overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort, like … a luxuriously appointed London Club.


Library Rules:

  • A classically masculine space decorated in  timeless style.
  • Shelves integrated into the architecture of the room or the providing the framework for the decor.
  • Comfortable seating often in leather to tone with book covers and age gracefully
  • essential kit: a library desk
  • jib doors, often providing a concealed exit whilst preserving symmetry of the scheme, and giving rise to the tradition which Paddy entered into so wholeheartedly …of ‘dreadful puns’ across the false book backs.
  • A space inspired by classical learning: we educate ourselves in order to make a noble use of our leisure (Aristotle).

It’s only in knowing the rules, that  you can play them.  The 2oth Century libraries which really set magazine pages aflutter and continue to inspire today are by the master Billy Baldwin and naturally his protégé Albert Hadley.

Baldwin’s library for Cole Porter, featured chic shelving in brass, mahogany and lacquer.

BB cole

Look again… leather: check  table: check, Shelving incorporated into architecture, in this case framing the doors: check, but then all freshened up by the spiffy brass shelving. BB porter library

Albert Hadley’s decor of Brooke Astor’s  library is sumptuous and RED.

Hadely illustration of Brooke Astor library

brooke astor new york library

Lacquer red walls with brass edged shelving, the brass continues in strong graphic lines, framing entrances and fireplaces.
brooke Astor library

Super comfy seating and opulent details.Brooke Astor's  NY library by Albert Hadley (red)_cHadley may have left out the leather but he fed all the senses.

This side of the Atlantic my favourite libraries are from  Yves Saint Laurent, a wonderful mélange of objects all held together by his aesthete’s eye.  His partner Pierre Bergé talks of  his poetic ideas, which originated in his imagination, allowing us to live in a charmed universe…each house had a story.  Yves spent alot of time in his libraries, books occupied a central role in our homes, with libraries full to overflowing.

YSL library

The egg is a bar which opens to store bottles

yves saint laurent library

the adoration of the Magi tapestry, centre place,  Burnes Jones 1904.

Yves saint laurent library

A modern Mondrain painting  above the mirrored fireplace


the shelving overflowing with pictures and inspiration

This Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s library was inspired by the famous de Noailles’ drawing room decorated by Jean Michel Frank.  The sheep are an Yves addition.

saint Laurent in AD whimsical library

Fast Forward to London  21st century  chez uber-designer Marc Newson and family.  Here – the library itself is the secret surprise, an aesthetic counterpoint to the rest of the interior? a reference to the power of books in the digital age? a wife’s demand for traditional comfort?

Read into it  what you will, but one thing’s for sure: you need to keep reading to stay in touch.

charlotte stackdale marc newson

library charlotte stockdale

and keep smiling.

interested in libraries? read about the extraordinary gift Scottish libraries received. Explore the world of Assouline, ultimate luxe publishers.

See various library schemes on Pinterest,

Images  and quotes from

The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Robert Murphy

The Country House (as above) Gervase Stopps

 Iconic Interiors 1900 to the present Dominic Bradbury

Albert Hadley Adam Lewis

Billy Baldwin see lectures 1,2,3,4 on this blog.

2 thoughts on “Library Lea(r)ning

  1. We stumbled over here coming from a different web page and thought I might as well check
    things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to going over your web page repeatedly.

  2. Pingback: 9, Duchess of Devonshire | adecorativeaffair

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s